UC – Whose Space is it Anyway?

The landscape for Unified Communications is far from clear according to Robin Hayman, Product and Marketing Director at SpliceCom.

“The traditional switch vendors tell anyone who listens that they own this space. Business telephone systems, hybrid switches and IP-PBXs are so “last year.” Now anyone who is anyone offers Unified Communications platforms. At the same time Microsoft say that this is now their domain, with the availability of Exchange Server 2007 and Office Communications Server 2007 Release 2 for the Enterprise and Communicator for smaller businesses. Microsoft muddy the water in further by suggesting that OCS will, in the future, mature into a PBX replacement application.

The reality is, as usual, somewhere in-between the two extremes, with voice now being another LAN based application, albeit an, extremely significant one in business terms, which must co-exist, converge and operate collaboratively with other applications to ensure that the whole delivers much more than the sum of the individual components.

But the high level messages from the manufacturers have ensured that there is much confusion amongst the channel and prospective customers alike. The result? Allied to the current economic conditions it means that introducing the topic of Unified Communications into a pitch is quite likely to prolong the sales cycle rather than close the deal.

As vendors it’s our role to educate our channel partners and prospective customers, as opposed to issuing propaganda, which merely serves to confuse matters further, spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt. It’s a responsibility that we at SpliceCom take seriously.

In early March we presented our Unified Communications proposition for our maximiser platform to our channel partners at our Chorleywood head office. We then handed the stage over to Julian Datta, Partner Technology Specialist for Unified Communications at Microsoft, who positioned the offer from his company. Finally, James Cook, CEO of Spider Group showed how the Spidermax Gateway for OCS allows SpliceCom’s maximiser and Microsoft OCS to be seamlessly integrated to provide true Unified Communications at the desktop. A full house went away with all the information they needed to identify a true Unified Communications prospect – and just as importantly how to recognise those that aren’t – who (in terms of switch manufacturers and application providers) owns which part of the picture and finally the ability to enter into knowledgeable discussions with prospective customers over the options available to them.

For the Enterprise, Unified Communications means system integration. For smaller businesses the service element associated with this means that this approach often won’t work because of the cost. Some switch vendors have taken it upon themselves to provide bundled applications to meet the need of this market, reducing both cost and complexity in the process. Unfortunately, this isn’t what’s required. Ultimately for smaller companies it’s their key business applications that need to be integrated with voice; Office, Outlook and Communicator in a Microsoft environment, Mail, Address Book and iChat when Apple Mac’s are deployed. Using alternative email applications, contact databases, presence detection, etc. – even if they can be easily deployed and work together in a far more integrated matter – just isn’t an option. And with personal video conferencing supplied as standard with most PCs and Macs now, who’s going to want to pay out for something they’ve got already.

No, when it comes to Unified Communications what’s required for smaller businesses is the same “best of breed” approach towards applications as that adopted by larger organisations, it’s just that the integration needs to be made easier. Ultimately this will be provided through the transition to web based applications – one of the reasons that we at SpliceCom have focussed on this technology since the launch of maximiser in early 2003. For now, the openness of our voice platform allows us to be agnostic towards operating systems, providing integration with applications running on Apple Mac OS X and Linux in addition to Microsoft Windows. This is achieved both natively and in conjunction with 3rd party products and applications, typified by the Spider Group’s Spidermax Gateway for OCS.